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Mercury Levels Same in Autistic, Other Children

Fish Consumption Predicted Levels Best, Researchers Found

Mercury Levels: Study Findings

The autism group did not differ from the typically developing group in the level of mercury circulating in their blood after the researchers adjusted for the sources of mercury, Hertz-Picciotto says.

''There are no obvious differences in the circulating levels of mercury" among the three groups, she says.

"Unadjusted, those with autism had lower levels as it turns out," she says. That may be due to a lower consumption of fish among those with autism, she says, perhaps because of the tendency to be picky eaters and adhere to the same foods.

The average levels of mercury were 0.24 micrograms per liter for the typically developing children, 0.26 micrograms per liter for those with autism or autism spectrum disorder, and 0.16 micrograms for those with other developmental disorders, she found.

To put that in perspective, Hertz-Picciotto says the Environmental Protection Agency considers a level of 5.8 micrograms per liter not risky for pregnant women. There is no specific standard set for children, she says.

Mercury Levels and Autism: Other Opinions

The new study drew mixed reactions from experts. The new findings ''should be reassuring to parents," says Geraldine Dawson, PhD, chief science officer for Autism Speaks and a research professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

''There has been concern by some parents that just the normal kind of exposure to mercury in our environment ... might have a bigger effect on children with autism, and they might have specific trouble metabolizing mercury,” Dawson says.

''This [study] suggests that children with autism are not retaining high levels of mercury in their body,” she says. “This study does not address the issue of whether mercury played a role in causing autism."

Sallie Bernard, co-founder and executive director of the Coalition for SafeMinds, called the study interesting but limited in its worth. "I think this is a study that adds to the literature on mercury and autism," she says. "But because it is looking at post-diagnosis exposure and does not investigate unique susceptibility and different toxicokinetics [such as absorption] of children with an autism spectrum disorder, the value of the study in understanding the role of mercury in autism is limited."

In a statement released by SafeMinds in response to the study, Bernard calls for research to look at how children with autism may handle mercury exposures differently, pointing to research suggesting children with autism may be more susceptible to stressors such as mercury.

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